Ward 12 by-election confirmed, Jobber secures $8 million, EndPoverty Edmonton extended

I’m trying something new, where I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. I’ll organize them here. Have feedback? Let me know!

Ward 12 by-election confirmed

We now have a date for the Ward 12 by-election to replace Amarjeet Sohi! Thanks to a 30 day extension from the Province, the by-election will take place on Monday, February 22, 2016. That means Nomination Day will take place on January 25. The results of the election will be made official on February 26 by noon.

As Dave noted earlier today, there are seven candidates who have announced they’ll run in the by-election so far. The successful candidate will be sworn in at a special City Council meeting on February 26 from 1-2pm. Then they’ll face an aggressive orientation and training period from February 29 to March 4.

Amarjeet Sohi - Ward 12
Amarjeet Sohi on Nomination Day in 2013, photo by Dave Cournoyer

The City’s estimated budget for the by-election is about $300,000. That includes $130,000 in wages and salary, $90,000 on communication and legal advertising, and $55,000 on technology. As for what it’ll cost to run, there could be quite a range. Back in the 2013 municipal election, winning Councillors spent between $31,000 and $106,000 with an average of about $73,000. Amarjeet Sohi raised more than $130,000 and spent $85,105.03 to win his seat. My hunch is that less will be spent in the by-election.

As I noted earlier this year, the last by-election on Council took place more than 20 years ago. You can find all the relevant information on the City’s Election page. I guess I better get to work on the dashboard!

Jobber secures $8 million

Local startup Jobber announced on Monday that it has raised $8 million in a Series A round led by OMERS Ventures, with participation from existing investors, Version One Ventures and Point Nine Capital. Founder Sam Pillar wrote about the news on the Jobber blog:

“Jobber’s customers are currently servicing over three and a half million home owners and businesses all over the world, from Vancouver to Toronto, San Francisco to New York, and Johannesburg to Melbourne. It’s amazing to think that our little startup from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is now being used in over 35 countries to help build better businesses.”

They started just four years ago so it’s pretty incredible to see what they have accomplished already. According to the news release, “more than three and a half million customers have been serviced by businesses using Jobber, with invoices totaling over $1 billion” since they launched back in 2011.

As Eric remarked to me today, there seems to be something about that roughly $8 million mark here in Edmonton. Back in 2012, Mitre Media raised $8.6 million. In 2013, Drivewyze raised $7.5 million in its Series A round. And earlier this year, Granify announced it had raised $9 million in Series A funding.

Congrats Jobber! Another great example of local entrepreneurs building great companies.

EndPoverty Edmonton extended

One of the things Council approved yesterday was an amendment to Bylaw 16765 to “provide additional time for the Task Force for the Elimination of Poverty to fulfill its mandate.” The original deadline for the task force to provide its final report was December 31, 2015 but now they’ve asked for more time “to test the ideas in the Strategy prior to returning to City Council with a comprehensive ten-year implementation plan.” The new deadline will be July 31, 2016 but the task force anticipates reporting back in April. The bylaw expiry has also been changed, to December 31, 2016, to account for time required for questions.

Now let’s tie this back into the first item above! The EndPoverty Edmonton strategy identifies “Make it easier to vote and participate in elections” as “one of the starting points to ending poverty in Edmonton.” In order to get started on addressing that, the City is hosting an online survey to better understand voter needs. Very timely with a by-election coming up in a few months, so take a few minutes to have your say!

You can learn more about EndPoverty Edmonton here. Be sure to follow them on Twitter too.

Edmonton should introduce online voting

City Council will decide tomorrow whether or not to go ahead with online voting in municipal elections. Executive Committee referred the item back to Council without a recommendation, but Administration’s position is clear. Their recommendation states:

  1. That an internet voting option for the 2013 General Election be approved, subject to the necessary Local Authorities Election Act regulation changes.
  2. That Administration request that Alberta Municipal Affairs make the necessary regulation changes to allow implementation of an internet voting option.
  3. That Administration bring forward amendments to Election Bylaw 15307 to address legislative requirements for internet voting.

You’ve probably heard about the Jellybean Election that was held last year to test the viability of online voting. The feedback from that and other public involvement activities was also clear:

Overall, the responses from those who participated in all of the public involvement processes indicated support for the use of internet voting as another voting option. The responses were qualified with an expectation that the City ensure that the voting option provide auditability, security, reliability, be user friendly and be provided at a reasonable cost.

With a projected cost of $400,000 to implement online voting for the 2013 General Election, I think the City can meet those qualifications. Online voting is a viable option right now, and we should offer it in Edmonton.

Voting Station
Is this the best we can do?

I could write about how pretty much everything can be done online now. We pay our bills, share our thoughts, file our taxes, buy goods and services, look for love, and much, much more, all online. I could write about how Scytl, the company we used for the online voting system in the Jellybean election, “has provided internet voting for elections all over the world including France, Madrid and Halifax.” But I’m not sure any of that would convince you more than this CNN article from 2011:

In all, 80 Canadian cities and towns have experimented with Internet voting in municipal elections. The town of Markham, in Ontario, has offered online ballots in local elections since 2003.

We’re not even close to leading the pack in Canada, let alone the world! Estonia has allowed online voting in its national elections since 2007. Online voting may be new to Edmonton, but its old hat elsewhere.

Read just about any article about online voting and amidst any concern you invariably hear that online voting is the future. The article in the Journal last week was no exception:

While Coun. Karen Leibovici feels online elections are the way of the future, she’s not sure the city can be ready to introduce this approach in less than nine months.

Online voting may be the future, but it’s not futuristic. As this Mashable article discussing online voting in the US says, “Internet voting systems are already being used in elections of consequence” and “widespread online elections will be a reality in the near future.”

Understandably, the most vocal concerns about online voting have to do with security. No system is 100% secure, but generally speaking it’s not the technology that is the weakest link, it’s us. For an eye-opening look at the human side of security, I’d encourage you to read Kevin Mitnick’s book The Art of Deception. In it, “Mitnick explains why all the firewalls and encryption protocols in the world will never be enough to stop a savvy grifter intent on rifling a corporate database or an irate employee determined to crash a system.” Or someone motivated to interfere with an election. If you really want to hack the system, you’ll find a way.

For me the question becomes, is online voting any less secure than offline voting? I don’t think it is. How do you know that that piece of paper you drop into a cardboard box ends up where it should and is counted accurately? How do you know that someone hasn’t interfered with the system somewhere in between you voting and the results being published? You don’t. A technology-based system would still require a certain amount of trust, but unlike with paper-based systems, that trust can be backed up with audit records and digital copies.

No one is suggesting that we get rid of paper-based voting and move entirely online (at least not yet). But adding online voting as an option would make the next election more accessible, and would give us the opportunity to gain some insight and knowledge on how to improve the system in the future.

The corporate outcomes section of the report going to Council states:

Providing voters with secure voting options enhances the democratic process and our citizens’ connection to their community, and supports the goals of the Way We Live.

I can’t say it any better than that. Let’s move forward with online voting in Edmonton.

Make elections greener – Internet voting!

Today is election day here in Edmonton. Today is also Blog Action Day. Better together? Let’s find out! It should be pretty clear that election day means we’re voting for our city mayor, councillors, and school board trustees, but what is Blog Action Day all about? From the website:

On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind – the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future.

This is my entry for Blog Action Day, and as you may have guessed by now, I am going to talk about the election in relation to the environment. I just heard on the news that the turnout for this election is expected to be an abysmal 20%. Are people really not interested, or is it just too difficult to vote? Maybe a bit of both, but the process can certainly be made simpler. Not to mention more environmentally friendly or green.

There are two major problems with the way we vote now:

  1. So much paper is wasted. There are forms to organize the volunteers. There are forms to register you. The ballot you fill out. The second ballot you fill out because you screwed up on the first one. The documents with results. You get the idea. Voting today is really not an environmentally friendly thing to do. And don’t forget the campaigns either – thousands and thousands of flyers, posters, signs, etc.
  2. It’s too difficult. I worked from 9 to 5 today, and it took me until 6 PM to get back to the area of the city I live in to vote. So I didn’t have much time at all considering the polls close at 8 PM. Not only that, but once you get to the voting station you have to deal with three dinosaurs before you even get a ballot. Seriously, why do three individuals have to look at my drivers license in order to let me vote? Isn’t one person good enough? I’m not kidding about the dinosaurs part either. I was easily the youngest person in the room by about 35 years. It’s great that they are helping out, but they move slowly, have to squint at the fine print on the drivers license, and worst of all they look at me like they’ve never seen someone under 40 going to vote (and of course they must comment on that too). Just let me get in and get out!

It doesn’t have to be this way! We could make elections more environmentally friendly and efficient by getting rid of the archaic system we use now and adopting Internet voting. There are of course examples of successes with Internet voting and concern over potential problems that may arise. I won’t get into any of that here, but you can read the very complete Wikipedia entry if you’re interested. I simply look at it this way:

  • Is the Internet good enough for Revenue Canada and the banks? Yes.
  • Would voting over the Internet have a positive impact on the environment? Yes.
  • Would voting over the Internet be faster and easier for voters than the current process? Yes.

Good enough for me. I think it’s time we moved one of our society’s most important institutions into the 21st century. I think it’s time we started voting over the Internet!